State AGs: Craigslist should drop adult services

August 24, 2010 8:25:01 PM PDT
Craigslist should remove its adult services section because the website cannot adequately block potentially illegal ads promoting prostitution and child trafficking, attorneys general in 17 states demanded Tuesday in a joint letter.

"Only Craigslist has the power to stop these ads before they are even published," said Kansas attorney general Steve Six in a statement Tuesday. "Sadly, they are completely unwilling to do so."

The joint letter acknowledged Craigslist faces the prospect of losing revenue if it were to remove the adult services section.

"No amount of money, however, can justify the scourge of illegal prostitution and the suffering of the women and children who will continue to be victimized, in the market and trafficking provided by Craigslist," the letter said.

Craigslist supports states' efforts to stop illegal exploitation, spokeswoman Susan MacTavish Best said in a statement that did not indicate whether the website plans to get rid of its adult services section.

"We hope to work closely with them, as we are with experts at nonprofits and in law enforcement, to prevent misuse of our site in facilitation of trafficking," she said.

Captain A.J. Perez says his Bridgeport Police Department is no stranger to prostitutes who use craigslist.

As part of two investigations involving prostitution, he points to one ad that used graphic descriptions.

"You make contact, you agree on a price. They usually come down and they service you and they leave," Perez said.

Undercover investigators contacted four women who they say sell their services on craigslist.

They lured them to this non-descript building on two different occasions where the women then asked for money.

They say they were promptly arrested.

"One of the girls, we asked her, 'are you going to quit now'? She said, 'I'll never quit, the money is too good. I'll be doing this forever'," Perez said.

Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster responded and in part said that he strongly supports the AG's desire to end this type of trafficking.

He added, "We hope to work closely with them to prevent misuse of our site."

Captain Perez supports the latest effort to remove the ads and hopes it will bring change.

"Get rid of any of these sites that encourage and promote prostitution," Perez said.

Some encounters set up through Craigslist have ended in violence and even death, authorities have said.

Last week, authorities said a former medical student accused of killing a masseuse he met through Craigslist committed suicide in the Boston jail where he was awaiting trial.

Philip Markoff, 24, was found unresponsive in his cell Aug. 15.

A former Boston University student, Markoff had pleaded not guilty in the fatal shooting of Julissa Brisman of New York City and in the armed robbery of a Las Vegas woman. Both crimes happened at Boston hotels within four days in April 2009. Rhode Island prosecutors also accused him of attacking a stripper that week.

Markoff had met the women through advertisements for erotic services posted on Craigslist.

The website has put safeguards in place as it has evolved over the years.

In November 2008, after pressure from 40 state attorneys general, Craigslist required posters to provide a working phone number and pay a fee for placing an ad in the erotic services section.

In May 2009, the website renamed erotic services to adult services and said it would adopt a manual screening process, where postings would be reviewed before publishing.

But state officials believe Craigslist is still not doing enough to stop illegal ads from appearing.

Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal subpoenaed Craigslist in May, asking the website to provide proof it was holding up its promise to help stop ads for prostitution.

Craigslist should provided its evidence in a few weeks, said a spokeswoman for the Connecticut attorney general's office.

Massachusetts attorney general Martha Coakley released a separate letter Tuesday that was sent to Craigslist officials and also called for the removal of adult services.

"You should continue to build on your success in connecting users to each other and providing a forum for the exchange of legal goods and services," she said Tuesday.

The 17 states whose attorneys general signed the letter are: Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)


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